Sunday, November 06, 2005

 

A Closer Look at the APA

During the past couple of days I've been touring the American Psychological Association (APA) website. This is a huge site with much information. What I found was much more that a guide to good footnotes and at times was bothersome but not a total den of inequity.

The current president of the APA is Ronald F. Levant was the first president and founder of Division 51, The Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity. As the APA presidency is an elected position, one could assume the views and opinions of the APA president are widely respected and accepted in the profession. In the The New Psychology of Men, Levant uses this definition of traditional masculinity:
More recently, Levant, Hirsch, Celentano, Cozza, Hill, MacEachern, Marty, & Schnedeker (1992) defined traditional masculinity ideology in terms of seven dimensions: The requirement to avoid all things feminine; the injunction to restrict one's emotional life; the emphasis on toughness and aggression; the injunction to be self-reliant; the emphasis on achieving status above all else; non-relational, objectifying attitudes toward sexuality; and fear and hatred of homosexuals.
Some how this sounds like the worst feminist's definition of masculinity. I can't say that I've ever known anyone that fulfills this definition. It sounds like a hypermacho character out of an 70's B grade movie.

In WHY STUDY BOYS AND MEN? Levant makes this point:
In addition, there is a "crisis of connection" between men and women resulting from major structural changes in women's roles over the past 40 years without compensatory changes in men's roles. This resulted from women's dramatically increased participation in the labor market. There has been an almost 600% rise in the employment of mothers of small children since the 1950's: 12% mothers of children under the age of six were employed in 1950, whereas almost 70% were employed in 2000. Women have thus moved from a sole emphasis on the family, and now combine career and family concerns. In making this shift, they have integrated traditional values such as love, family, and caring for others with newer values such as independence, career, and defining themselves through their own accomplishments. Many men have yet to make equivalent and corresponding changes.
The obvious implication says that women are coping wonderfully and men aren't. Where I work about 75% of the employees are female. Many have MBA's and other graduate degrees. From observation of this group, the women aren't doing any better than the men at coping. Many of the younger women change to part-time work, work at home schedules or just quit in order to be with their children. They create a "traditional" family structure.

More from this article:
First of all, we must take men's experience seriously and adopt an empathic approach to their pain. If we want men to hear our message, we must first listen to theirs. Second, the masculinity crisis has resulted in a wholesale trashing of all aspects of masculinity, such that for many men the essential dilemma is that much of what they have been taught to value since childhood is under attack. To help men come to terms with the crisis and restore their lost sense of pride, we also must honor the still-valuable aspects of masculinity in order to restore the lost sense of pride associated with being a man.
With this I must mostly agree but feel Dr. Levant and many of his cohorts are as much the "trashers" (re: definition above) as the helpers.


In this articleHelping men to help themselves Lea Winerman explores:
Research aims to understand why men are less likely than women to seek mental health help, and what psychologists can do to change that.
The article starts with:
Try to imagine the Marlboro man in therapy. The image just doesn't compute, does it? The Marlboro man wouldn't admit to needing help. The Marlboro man wouldn't talk about his emotions. For that matter, the Marlboro man might not even recognize that he has emotions.
When I read this I almost immediately experience feelings of irritation and anger. Oops, I can't be aware of my feelings I'm a man. Better go find a psychologist to teach me how to be aware of my feelings. Perhaps it's better that men don't as readily go to the doctor, etc., that way men don't get written as "hysterical" as did DrHelen when she was having a heart attack. Damned of you do, damned if you don't.

The article also contains this:
APA President and Nova Southeastern University psychologist Ronald F. Levant, EdD, has coined the term "normative male alexithymia"--literally "without words for emotions" (see page 60)--to describe this phenomenon.


In another article Are men emotional mummies? Levant is cited as making the same argument but
William S. Pollack, PhD, suggests that most men display what amounts to a full-blown case of alexithymia, the result of a gender-specific rearing and socialization process.
Maybe it's just the group that these psychologists associate with that can't adequately express emotions, themselves.

Here is an article by a psychologist bemoaning the state of the APA entitled "Lunacy 101: Questioning the Need for Fathers" (By Dr. Wade F. Horn). An excerpt:
Last year the APA published a study advocating that the term child sexual abuse be replaced, at least in some cases, with adult-child sex, a more "value neutral term." Fortunately, after several months of defending the publication of that study, the APA came to its senses and acknowledged that its not in the best interests of children to define pedophilia down (boy, now there's courage for you!).

No sooner had I completed my mental victory dance in celebration of this return to sanity within the APA, then what should appear on my desk but the June 1999 issue of the American Psychologist. Now, the American Psychologist is no obscure journal; in fact, it is the only APA journal sent to every member of the American Psychological Association. It is used routinely to espouse the viewpoint of the APA leadership.

So what was so upsetting about this issue of the American Psychologist? In its infinite wisdom, the APA decided to publish as its lead article, a broadside against the fatherhood movement just in time for Father's Day. They should have just sent a tie.

Titled "Deconstructing the Essential Father" and penned by Louise B. Silverstein and Carl F. Auerbach, both of Yeshiva University, the authors of the article make two arguments: First, fathers are really non-essential to the healthy development of children. Second, marriage stinks.
This was a few years ago but not exactly ancient history. I had forgotten all about the adult-child sex thing.

Ron Levant's Responses to questions from The Monitor:
I think the declining percentage of males in college and graduate school reflects a masculinity crisis which is ongoing in our society. The masculinity crisis involves the collapse of the basic pattern by which men have traditionally fulfilled the code for masculine role behavior -- the good provider role -- and the resultant intensification of gender role strain. The solution requires the reconstruction of masculinity, a re-evaluation and re-definition of what it means to be a man in a post-patriarchal society, one in which traditional gender roles have been transcended. APA Division 51 (the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity) could probably help out in a collaborative project with Division 2.
There seems to be a common theme here, men need to change. In the feminist movement the message was society needs to change to allow women to reach there full potential. A message with which I agree. Yet the message for men is quite the opposite.

Another psychologist, Jim ONeil, widely published, etc. states his
reason for studying male psychology
.
In 1979, while at the University of Kansas, I wanted to create conceptualizations that explained why men were sexist, dysfunctional, unhappy, and conflicted because of their socialized masculinity
ONeil certainly started from an unbiased position. I am now experiencing a feeling of abject frustration that people such as this have tremendous influence in private and governmental policies, programs, etc. This was not at the APA website but was too good to pass up.

I found a paper on gay parenting. The interesting part is the brief history of homosexuality being considered a mental illness.
The psychiatric, psychological, and social-work professions do not consider homosexual orientation to be a mental disorder. More than 20 years ago, the American Psychiatric Association removed "homosexuality" from its list of mental disorders, stating that "homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities" (American Psychiatric Association, 1980). In 1975, the American Psychological Association took the same position and urged all mental health professionals to help dispel the stigma of mental illness that had long been associated with homosexual orientation (American Psychological Association, 1975). The National Association of Social Workers has a similar policy (National Association of Social Workers, 1994).
The APA has let go of old definitions of homosexuality but holds on to even older definitions of "traditional masculinity." BTW - I am not here to argue gay parenting or homosexuality. I couldn't find an article specifically on male parenting however.

I did find it interesting that The Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity Mission Statement contained this:
SPSMM acknowledges its historical debt to feminist-inspired scholarship on gender, and commits itself to the support of groups such as women, gays, lesbians and peoples of color that have been uniquely oppressed by the gender/class/race system.
A tribute to feminism and nearly every group but men.

The scrolling window on the home page of SPScontainedned this in the message:
Three of our four Board of Directors seats are reserved for a woman, a person of color, and a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered person.
They certainly seem obsessed with the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered person. I guy I went to high school with is now a transsexual lesbian. She'd be perfect for the board and obviously more objective and emotionally healthy than a traditional man.

On a more positive note, I found this Relating To Boys About Boys' Relationships by Judy Y. Chu which directly contradicts the premises of Levant, ONeil and such.
Far from being emotionally deficient and relationally impaired, the adolescent boys in my study showed themselves to be 1) keenly aware of their own thoughts, feelings, and desires, 2) sensitive and responsive to the dynamics of their interpersonal relationships, and 3) attuned to the realities of their social and cultural contexts (Chu, 1998, 1999). Contrary to discourse suggesting that boys' gender socialization renders them incapable of and/or uninterested in expressing and sharing themselves with others, there is evidence in boys' interview narratives that the fundamental capacity and desire to establish close, mutual relationships, which boys clearly demonstrate in infancy (Stern, 1985; Trevarthan, 1979; Tronick, 1989) and begin to cover up in early childhood (Chu, 2000), carry forth into adolescence.

As we understand that boys' gender socialization may have psychological costs and relational consequences, an initial instinct is to focus on changing the cultural messages and social processes that appear to pose a threat to boys' well being. However, as we realize that there will always be obstacles and challenges that boys (and girls) inevitably encounter as part of their normative development, it is also important to focus on fostering individual boys' consciousness, awareness, and critical reflection so that -- as active participants in their socialization and development -- they can make more informed decisions about who they want to be and how they want to act. The idea is not necessarily to change boys but to understand how they decide to be the ways they are and do the things they do, to respect their decisions while helping them to explore alternate possibilities, and to bolster the resources from which they already draw strength to resistant and resilient when social pressures threaten to compromise their personal integrity. Above all, we must start with boys' perspectives. For it is by considering where boys feel they are coming from and what boys feel they are up against that we can best learn how to support boys' development in ways that account for their experiences, are relevant to their lives.
Not "emotionally deficient and relationally impaired." Can't be! Say it ain't so!! Maybe when boys turn to men they become "emotionally deficient and relationally impaired" and suffer from "Normative Male Alexithymia." Or, maybe what Levant and his ilk see stems from what they are looking for rather than the way men really are. The old self-fulfilling prophecy type thing. Whatever the case, the APA and SPSMM seem mostly interested in perpetuating the myths of the "super masculine male" and then prescibing "cures."

Comments:
Unfortunately, the definition listed above adequately describes the way I saw 90% of the young men I went to middle school and high school with. But looking back at it now, it may have been my perceptions coloring things; their behavior could have been more symtomatic rather than the root of the issue.

Again, to me it comes down to the lionization of men behaving badly, and our society's apparent obsession with that stereotype. The more groups like the APA define masculinity as that, and then decry that definition, the more power they give to men to fill that role.

What's really funny is that I witnessed an odd conversation from a group of high school senior girls who were complaining about the boys in their life 'acting like girls.' "He's so dramatic!" "It's like I'm dating a chick." "Why can't he just go watch football like normal guys?" Was the usual complaint.

These girls, all very attractive, very intelligent and bound for colleges of their choice, voiced concern that they just wanted to meet some 'regular, chill guys' who wouldn't flip out all the time and could have something other than a soul - shaking conversation. They were upset that society has so emasculated men that they might not have access to any: they felt their choices had been artificially limited to emotional terrorists and mouth breathing neanderthals.

I told em to give it a few years, and meet guys who have real jobs: that their fellas might be a little more mature once that whole 'real world' thing got realized. I told them also to meet some cats that weren't living on an Island, as that can limit the pool and drive standards down.
 
At least the chicks can see it correctly. I've known a few who met the definition of "tradional masculinity" but most were or became criminals.

I have a son 16 years old and another son 12 years old. They are gifted athletes and would be considered masculine. But they also express their feelings well, are articulate and insightful as are the majority of their buddies.

I also work with that horrible bastion of masculinity, the Boy Scouts. Again, the boys (and men leaders) are articulate, express feelings, etc. Never has the subject of homosexuality, etc. come up. Additionally, the Boy Scouts allow female leaders and, also, girl members in Explorer, Venturing and certain Scout groups. At the Girl Scout website I couldn't find any evidence of any programs for boys and never have heard of such. But, male=bad and female=good for too many of the do-gooders in our society.
 
This recent misuse of the alexithymia concept by Harvard University professor Dr. Ron Levant shows how easily the alexithymia can be misunderstood as a stoic resistance, repression, or denial of emotions. Levant devised the phrase "normative male alexithymia" to describe how North American males suffer to some degree from cultural conditioning which causes men to repress their vulnerable and caring emotions causing them to become underdeveloped in emotional expressiveness. He says, "Many men were raised (and continue to be raised) to function in a world that no longer exists. To be good men, they were told, they must become reliable providers, emotionally stoic, logical, solution oriented, and aggressive." Levant states that according to his clinical observation this type of problem is so common for men in our culture that it may be called "normative". While Levant may be right in his claim that men are (generally) less socially skilled in emotional expression than women, he is incorrect in claiming that men are less able to identify specific emotional states in self or others in the true clinical sense of alexithymia (i.e. 'difficulty identifying feelings'). According to College of New Jersey psychologist Mark Kiselica, past president of the American Psychological Association's Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity, most men are not alexithymic: “it is not a 'norm'”. Kiselica reports that a literature review showed only a few studies have reported that males have slightly higher rates of developing the disorder, while the majority of studies found no differences between the genders, with overall about one in 10 people of either gender showing any significant level of alexithymia.
True, men have not been educated or encouraged to express their feelings verbally but they most certainly can, generally speaking, recognise both their own feelings and those of others as well as do women. From earliest childhood most cultures encourage males to be emotionally stoic, a disposition which may, as Levant stresses, lend itself to pathologies of emotional expression. But to emphasise the potential pathologies of this disposition tells us only a small negative part of the story. The stoic disposition also includes time honoured traits of forbearance, tolerance, and healthy emotional control in stressful situations. To champion emotional extroversion or cite verbal skill in expressing feelings does not guarantee healthy emotional interaction with others, as in the example of ‘con-artists’ or ‘manipulators’ who misuse the language of emotional expressiveness to exploit or domineer others.
To his credit Levant has qualified his normative male alexithymia as a sub-diagnostic condition, which unlike true clinical alexithymia is not drastically pathological. Nevertheless, his conjectures reveal the twin errors of both genderising alexithymia, and confusing it with general categories of emotional resistance and repression. In the final analysis this superficial conflation of alexithymia with ‘maleness’ may reflect the influences of contemporary gender stereotyping (ie. gender-feminist factiods) more than it does the findings of rigorous scientific method. It also leaves us with the unfortunate consequence of confusing the accepted clinical meaning of the term as proposed by all leading clinicians for the last 30 years (see the book 'Disorders of Affect Regulation: Alexithymia in Medical and Psychiatric Illness' for the clinically correct definition).
 
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